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Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Colonial Warfare, pt 14

murdering the Malagasy

Of all the brutal repressions of end of the colonial period, the French repression on Madagascar remains the least known. While the Dutch refuse to discuss their war in Indonesia and the Belgians pretend someone else ran the Congo, the French simply forgot what happened on Madagascar.

Jaona, Jiny’s founder in the south, is one of the few nationalist chiefs to acknowledge his responsibility in triggering what the settlers called the "rebellion" and what the Malagasies themselves were later to refer to as the "events". He explains: "My ancestors were killed during the French occupation, shot by Senegalese firing squads. I had to fight to avenge my father. I was angry. I told myself: we went to France, fought the Germans, defended France, country of the French. Why aren’t we defending our own country? Let’s stand up and be counted. Let’s abolish forced labour. I called the people out on strike" (5).

Two guerrilla zones were formed in the dense, mountainous forest of the east and then spread. A "railway battle" ensued with the collusion of some of the railway workers. Several "armies" were formed with their own "generals" and "war ministers"; and newly-demobilised soldiers led the rebels, as did many of the mpanjakas (traditional chiefs).

An 18,000 strong French expeditionary force - subsequently increasing to 30,000 - landed in April. It took them a whole year to crush the nationalist guerrillas. Twenty-one months after the start of the insurrection, the last remaining rebels came out of the forest, starved and without arms, leaders or supplies. "They were trying to eliminate all the officers and you only needed a pair of trousers and shoes to be a suspect", recalls Gisèle Rabasahala, then secretary to the French lawyers of the MDRM (which subsequently took control of the committee responsible for the defence and rehabilitation of the prisoners. "It was a real bludgeoning", adds Father Tronchon; "They called it pacification once they’d flattened everything".

According to the General Staff reports, which Father Tronchon uses as the basis of his figures, the so-called pacification led to 89,000 deaths, not to mention torture, summary executions and villages forcibly evacuated and torched. At the National Assembly, the French high commissioner gave a more comprehensive estimate: 90,000-100,000 dead. Many Malagasies say the slaughter was even more extensive. The French were then perfecting new techniques of colonial warfare, particularly in terms of psychological action. Just as the French forces had tested some of their weaponry in Madagascar at the time of the 1895 conquest less than 20 years before the first world war - orchestrated by Generals Gallieni, Joffre and Lyautey, the future "victors of the Marne".

The rebels themselves were responsible for the deaths of 550 Europeans and of approximately 1,900 Malagasies. In fact, against the backdrop of the colonial war, an appalling civil war was played out in the first weeks between the nationalists and members of the Party of the Malagasy Disinherited (Padesm). This group was supported by the colonial authorities. It recruited chiefly among the mainty (blacks) and the descendants of slaves from the High Plateaux and among the inhabitants of coastal provinces. It accused the MDRM of having "fomented the rebellion in order to restore the former monarchy and the hova hegemony" (6).

The Malagasy rebellion was one of the most bloody episodes in French colonial history

Although the uprising eventually spread over one-third of the island, the French were able to restore order after reinforcements arrived from France. Casualties among the Malagasy were estimated in the 60,000 to 80,000 range (later reports estimated 11,000 casualties, of whom 180 were non-Malagasy). The group of leaders responsible for the uprising, which came to be referred to as the Revolt of 1947, never has been identified conclusively. Although the MDRM leadership consistently maintained its innocence, the French outlawed the party. French military courts tried the military leaders of the revolt and executed twenty of them. Other trials produced, by one report, some 5,000 to 6,000 convictions, and penalties ranged from brief imprisonment to death.

In 1956 France's socialist government renewed the French commitment to greater autonomy in Madagascar and other colonial possessions by enacting the loi-cadre (enabling law). The loi-cadre provided for universal suffrage and was the basis for parliamentary government in each colony. In the case of Madagascar, the law established executive councils to function alongside provincial and national assemblies, and dissolved the separate electoral colleges for the French and Malagasy groups. The provision for universal suffrage had significant implications in Madagascar because of the basic ethnopolitical split between the Merina and the côtiers, reinforced by the divisions between Protestants and Roman Catholics. Superior armed strength and educational and cultural advantages had given the Merina a dominant influence on the political process during much of the country's history. The Merina were heavily represented in the Malagasy component of the small elite to whom suffrage had been restricted in the earlier years of French rule. Now the côtiers, who outnumbered the Merina, would be a majority.

The end of the 1950s was marked by growing debate over the future of Madagascar's relationship with France. Two major political parties emerged. The newly created Democratic Social Party of Madagascar (Parti Social Démocrate de Madagascar--PSD) favored self-rule while maintaining close ties with France. The PSD was led by Philibert Tsiranana, a well-educated Tsimihety from the northern coastal region who was one of three Malagasy deputies elected in 1956 to the National Assembly in Paris. The PSD built upon Tsiranana's traditional political stronghold of Mahajanga in northwest Madagascar and rapidly extended its sources of support by absorbing most of the smaller parties that had been organized by the côtiers. In sharp contrast, those advocating complete independence from France came together under the auspices of the Congress Party for the Independence of Madagascar (Antokon'ny Kongresy Fanafahana an'i Madagasikara-- AKFM). Primarily based in Antananarivo and Antsiranana, party support centered among the Merina under the leadership of Richard Andriamanjato, himself a Merina and a member of the Protestant clergy. To the consternation of French policy makers, the AKFM platform called for nationalization of foreign-owned industries, collectivization of land, the "Malagachization" of society away from French values and customs (most notably use of the French language), international nonalignment, and exit from the Franc Zone.

posted by Steve @ 3:05:00 PM

3:05:00 PM

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